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Street Wise: a Stop-by-Stop Guide to Laugavegur, Reykjavik

Stroll down Laugavegur street in Reykjavik for boutique shops and quirky attractions
Stroll down Laugavegur street in Reykjavik for boutique shops and quirky attractions | © Richard Green / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Leon Beckenham
23 November 2021
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With ice bars, Nordic hotels and restaurants serving foraged food from the mountains, the capital’s main street is a snapshot of Iceland in microcosm.

While Iceland’s capital is tiny by most European standards, Reykjavik has always punched way above its weight when it comes to cool cultural cachet. Distilling its best bits into a buzzy 2km (1.2mi) stretch is Laugavegur, one of the oldest streets in the city and the main shopping artery in the Icelandic capital. Here, you’ll find everything from ice bars and cosy cafes to concept stores and vintage threads, together with some great places to stay once you’ve explored them all.

Magic Ice Reykjavík

Cocktail Bar, Cocktails
Map View
Just around the corner from Reykjavik’s rather magical rainbow street art – a symbol of LGBTQ acceptance – this ice-bar-cum-art-gallery certainly has a touch of the winter wonderland about it. Every piece of the permanent exhibition is carved or moulded from crystal-clear ice, even down to the glasses at the bar. Sculptures are dramatically illuminated, some of which recount Icelandic history. You get a winter poncho, cosy gloves and their signature blue drink on arrival. It’s very chilly, but lots of fun and great for Instagram.

Hús máls og menningar

Music Venue, Bookstore
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Shoppers lean upon a balcony by rows of books at Hús máls og menningar
© Hús máls og menningar
Icelanders are renowned for their love of books and this cool cultural centre blends bookstore, bar and live-music venue. You can browse the hundreds of tomes squeezed into the shelves across two floors, and even find yourself a cosy corner to have a read with a drink. Local and out-of-town bands regularly perform here in the evening, and the place stays open until late at the weekend – for a bookshop at least.

Kiki Queer Bar

Nightclub, Gay Bar, Icelandic, $$$
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A man stands at the door of Kiki Queer Bar
© Pulpitis / Depositphotos.com
Look out for the second rainbow along Laugavegur and this is where you’ll find the self-proclaimed “queerest club in Reykjavik”. It’s the city’s (and therefore Iceland’s) longest-running and most popular LGBTQ haunt, where you can guarantee a packed-out, up-for-it dancefloor of mixed revellers every weekend. Drag nights, outrageous entertainment and some top DJ sets make this the go-to bar for gay-oriented good times in the capital.

Kaldi Bar

Bar, Northern European, $$$
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The inside of Kaldi Barm with dark wood tables and rough stone walls
© Kaldi Bar
With rough stone walls, a dimly lit atmosphere and bare wooden floorboards, there’s a wonderfully snug-rustic vibe about this perennially popular bar. It’s one of the best spots to sample a range of national beers, with a focus on Icelandic microbrewery beers – including the eponymous Kaldi. They also have the largest gin and tonic collection in Iceland. An old upright piano is free to use for anyone who can play and you’ll often get random customers putting on an impromptu show.

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  • Ion City Hotel

    4.7/5 (141 Reviews)
    A modern guestroom at Ion City Hotel with wood walls and floors and a double bed
    Courtesy of Ion City Hotel / Expedia.com
    Price Drop
    Now from $196 per night
    You step off Laugavegur right into the swishly understated lobby of this design-led hotel, a “bird’s nest” hanging lamp, ice-cube desk and granite tiles alluding to the Icelandic wilds. Clever use of light and mirrors add a sense of space and drama, especially in the jazzed-up corridors. Rooms continue in kind, with natural materials employed to stylish effect, plus premium Egyptian cotton sheets and B&O bluetooth speakers. Some suites add balconies with private saunas. Worrying about staying on Reykjavik’s busiest street? Fear not. Rooms are soundproofed to the max.
    More info

    Spúútnik

    Store
    Map View
    Young people on the street.
    © MIKEL BILBAO GOROSTIAGA- TRAVELS / Alamy Stock Photo
    This much-loved second-hand clothes store has been open for as long as most people can remember (well, 1986) and is certainly one of the oldest in Reykjavik. It’s still going strong with regularly updated collections of mostly Eighties and Nineties clothes and accessories pulling in vintage-hungry shoppers. You have to dig pretty deep for a deal, but if you don’t mind splashing the cash you can pick up some iconic fashion relics. They also have a great line in lopapeysa (Icelandic) wool sweaters.

    Sand Hotel

    4.7/5 (653 Reviews)
    A cosy-looking guestroom at the Sand Hotel with a double bed and a mirror-topped desk
    Courtesy of Sand Hotel / Expedia.com
    Price Drop
    Now from $150 per night
    The entrance to the Sand Hotel is discreetly tucked away in a courtyard just steps from Laugavegur’s main drag. You enter a world of calm, greeted by a soothing palette and understated interiors, with oh-so-tasteful design throughout. The hotel is in the same building that includes the Sandholt Bakery, so the sweet smell of oven-fresh goods is one you’ll have to try to resist. Rooms balance cosy and elegant with aplomb, with fancy touches including Marshall bluetooth speakers and Nespresso machines, plus thick robes to kick back in.
    More info

    Aftur Clothing

    Shop
    Map View
    Established in 1999 by local designer Bara Holmgeirsdottir, this environmentally friendly brand was creating sustainable fashion long before it was fashionable. The label creates mostly womenswear from recycled garments with an emphasis on fine-quality craftsmanship. This Laugavegur street boutique stocks a good range of ecoforward products from other local and international designers, too, as well as perfumes, scented candles and essential oils.

    Old Iceland

    Restaurant, Icelandic, $$$
    Map View
    An artfully stacked plate of Icelandic food on a wood table in Old Iceland restaurant
    © Old Iceland
    Opened in 2014 by three brothers, Old Iceland quickly established itself as one of the finest restaurants on Laugavegur – if not in the whole of Reykjavik. They’re dedicated to highlighting Icelandic produce, so expect a menu filled with the likes of wild mushrooms, roasted root vegetables and some truly fabulous seafood. Herbs and spices are foraged from the mountains of Iceland and it’s all wonderfully presented, too. A dessert wine from a local distillery rounds it off deliciously.

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